I’m fed up with seeing some autistic people described as “too disabled to self-advocate” or “unable to consent.” It’s cruel, dehumanizing, and false.
First, let me clarify that self-advocacy and consent are two sides of the same coin. Self-advocacy is communicating your boundaries, needs, or preferences. Consent is the same thing, but in direct response to an offer or demand.
It doesn’t require speaking. It doesn’t even require words. Any two opposing actions can be used to communicate “yes” and “no.”
“Yes” could be thumbs up, and “no” could be thumbs down.
“Yes” could be eyes blinking, and “no” could be eyes shut.
“Yes” could be squealing, and “no” could be groaning.
“Yes” could be moving toward, and “no” could be moving away – or remaining motionless.
The pair of actions isn’t important. The main question is, does the person consistently have control over those actions? And, are they aware of how you’ll interpret them?
Now, one complicating factor is that people vary in the ability to understand the consequences of an agreement.
But this is true for everyone – for example, someone who hires a lawyer to help them understand a contract. You would never say that such a person can’t consent, only that they need support.
AAC apps and devices help some people to self-advocate for more complex support, and give more nuanced consent (e.g. only under certain conditions). But for a person without such tools, any effort they make to communicate should be respected.
Whenever autistic people are sober and awake, we can self-advocate and we can consent.